'Thor' Director Kenneth Branagh on Humbling Gods, Celestial-human Love, and Impact of Shakespeare and 'Star Trek' - EXCLUSIVE
Entertainment Weekly, 18 February 2011
In the new trailer for director Kenneth Branaghís 'Thor', we finally see star Chris Hemsworth in mallet-swinging combat against his backstabbing brother Loki, a planet of ice-giants, and the heaven-sent hellfire machine The Destroyer. Yesterday, Branagh talked exclusively with EW about the triumvirate of villains in the movie, opening in 3-D on May 6.
Now the director goes into more detail about how he attempts to humanize a comic-book god, Thorís clumsy relationship with women, whether heíll make a cameo appearance, and how 'Star Trek' and Shakespeare helped him find his hero.
For all the action extravagance in the new 'Thor' trailer, a surprising amount is devoted to comedy, with most of the jokes at Thorís expense. Thatís a tactical choice, because the movieís biggest challenge is to make its all-powerful blond god relatable to the average popcorn-muncher. Branagh says to cut a god down to size, itís important for Thor to be able to laugh at Thor.
KENNETH BRANAGH: I was convinced when it was in development that part of this happening on contemporary Earth was absolutely the right way to go. And with the fantastical element weíre asking people to go along with, one way to help that happen, and allow it to be dramatic and serious when it needs to be, is to have a sense of humor about it. The film was never designed to be portentous or self-important. It wants to have a really good time enjoying the consequences of the culture clash.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Thor doesnít have a sense of humor about himself, but is that whatís funny about him?
We always felt there was a very strong mine of material in the fish-out-of-water. When you reduce a man who is arrogant by temperament, extremely oppressive and used to having his own way, dressed, um Ö unusually, you are immediately in a position where you have comic friction. This is a guy who continues to live his own reality. In his mind, heís still prince of the cosmos and heíll do what he wants. People from Earth getting in his way and asking silly questions is immaterial.
We know heís an all-powerful god, but this movie also makes him kind of a screw-up. His belligerence gets him banished to Earth, which disgusts him. He has to prove himself worthy again to his father [Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins] ó but is that what heís doing with the audience, too?
Even in the case of a god, audiences ó paradoxically ó enjoy recognizing the human traits. In Thorís case, we are thrilled by his powers, but I think we relate to his emotions. There are some flaws, some foibles, sibling rivalries at work, and romantic entanglements. The way into making a god attractive is to find out where his experience connects to a human one.
Is this a coming-of-age story in that way? A god with a bad attitude is cast down to Earth and learns humility, learns generosity Ö
Itís true that itís an identity tale. These films can allow more space for the kind of character element that you accurately described, to allow more space for, as you say, a coming-of-age-story, a prodigal son story, an identity story Ö Hopefully you can layer into the larger entertaining experience and make it resonate with the audience.
Your first major film was 1989ís 'Henry V', with Prince Hal as heir to a throne, despite not seeming worthy at first. He has to prove himself, too. Is it blasphemy to speculate about a connection with Thor?
We talked about it, though not with the intent to aggrandize ourselves. But bear in mind, Shakespeare was a populist writer. If his stories didnít work they closed after opening weekend. Like Prince Hal, Thor is also finding himself in a world of entitlement where the pressure to be good and the pressure to be best and live up to something is so extraordinary. We were happy to discuss in relation to Shakespeare, because he always stole his stories from other populist writers [laughs], whether it was the ancient Romans, ancient Greeks or medieval sagas from Denmark. He knew the fascination the population at large can have with those who are entitled, particularly royals, and particularly young men. We believed [Thorís] story was he had to become his own man, or in his case ó perversely enough ó his own god. So we borrow, and if that includes Shakespeare, weíre happy to try and steal a few character notes.
Ancient mythology is full of stories of gods and goddesses falling in love with human beings. Is that part of this film with Natalie Portmanís character, proving to Thor that humans are worth protecting?
[Laughs] One of the more fantastical things for me would be that thereíd be any problem with Thor falling in love with Natalie Portman. Weíre very blessed with talented and beautiful women. We have Kat Dennings, as [Portmanís] partner in crime, we have Jamie Alexander as [the warrior goddess] Sif, Renne Russo as Thorís mum. There are a lot of amazing passionate gals around. [Thor] is a man who has a Viking, atavistic sense of entitlement. In another life, heíd be suggesting everyone ó particularly women ó do exactly what he says. When you cast someone like Natalie Portman, the character canít just be the love interest. She is already an interesting dynamic character in her own right. It helps to have that conflict and interplay.
Chris Hemsworth hasnít done a lot of films, but most people who know him will have seen him in that opening scene in 'Star Trek', as James Kirkís self-sacrificing father. Since Thor starts out so arrogant, was it that role that showed Chris could also play noble?
I think youíre right, thatís a marvelous film, with a brilliant opening to it, and it relied on a character we see only briefly suggesting depth of concern and passion for his wife and soon-to-be-born son that we could identity with. He needed, just by virtue of sitting there, to act nobly in action to convince us that he was the great father that Jim Kirk was going to have to live up to and be inspired by. He used good economy in that small part. In terms of the kind of self-knowledge and complexity that we knew Thor might arrive at, we knew Chris could convey that. Heís immense, magnificent and massive as a physical being, but thereís a lot going on in those eyes, and a lot conveyed in the atmosphere of the man.
Will we see you turn up onscreen at any point in Thor? A cameo?
I couldnít possibly tell you. Iíd have to kill you if I did. There may be, in the slightest, slightest, slightest way ó but I donít think visual. I was happy to be on one side of the camera. My God, there was plenty to doÖ